Swine Flu & the Cup

It has been a rather odd couple of days trying to make sense of what we should and should not do in worship, in Glasgow, at this stage of the swine flu pandemic.

Sometimes we all just want to be told what to do, and I think that this is one occassion where clergy would like very much to be told exactly what to do. That has not happened here, so far as I can tell though it has been quite tricky trying to work this out.

Episcopal clergy in Scotland did receive this week by e-mail the guidelines that the Archbishops in England have issued. I don’t know what other people’s feeling is, but I found this confusing and unhelpful.

In the absence of any clear advice or instruction to the contrary by any local public health bigwig or any clear directive from either my own bishop or the College of Bishops, my conclusion is that we will proceed as follows here at St Mary’s:

Tomorrow morning, the bread and wine will be served as usual at St Mary’s. The celebrant and those serving communion will be taking particular care to make sure that their hands are clean. (Anti-bacterial hand-gel will be available on the credence table). It may be in the future that we will suspend the common cup and serve only the bread to the congregation. Such a change will not be made without clear guidance from relevant authorities based on the best available advice.

We will continue to share the peace in the usual manner. Should the general population be told at any time not to shake hands or touch one another then we will suspend the peace here in St Mary’s.

One piece of advice which we are consistently being given is that intinction is much more likely to spread germs than people drinking from the cup. (I’ve heard this advice before, it is not new). There are two issues here, one is that people’s fingers are at high risk of getting into the cup that others have to drink from and the other is that the thing being put into the cup has already been touched by the hands of both the faithful and the celebrant. For this reason, I suggest that people do not attempt to receive the wine by intinction at this time.

It should go without saying that churches should pay attention to the highest standards of hygeine at communion. It also probably needs to be said that the risks to catching anything at all are extremely low if communion is dispensed properly. Churches need to be using a noble metal for the cup and real alchoholic wine. This rules out pottery chalices, I’m afraid and also grape juice, non-achoholic communion “wine” and ribena. I have sometimes been told that we must remember that people in Africa cannot afford wine and have to do without. Sadly lots of people in Africa do not have access to the medicines we have in the west either, but we don’t try to emulate them by refusing what is good for us. If it is the common cup, make sure that it is real fortified wine in it.

I know that some people cannot drink wine for a variety of reasons. That does not justify putting the health of a congregation at risk by using non-alcholic stuff in my book.

This injunction should not have to be given to any Anglicans as using real wine at communion was the subject of a Lambeth Resolution. We all know that we all keep Lambeth Resolutions, don’t we?


  1. Amen. Sensible. And what we’ve already decided as a Vestry at St Aug’s.

  2. I suspect the public health bigwigs will be reluctant to give explicit instructions to the churches on how to run their rituals.

    I assume that it is given that anyone handing out the bread and wine should not have any symptoms of the flu and be several days clear of any symptoms even if it means communion has to cancelled for that service.

    Are you making any recommendations for members of the congregation who are suffering from the flu? Should they stay home even if it is mild, should they refrain from communion, should they refrain from shaking hands?

  3. RosemaryHannah says

    Very sensible, especially as the bread is as liable to infection as the cup – what we really need to do is stop breathing, only sadly that condition is a little hard to reverse.

  4. Yes, erp, the diocese is aware that it might at some times be preferable not to have a service than to have one.

    People who have flu symptoms will indeed be encouraged to stay away. I may blog about being ill and connecting with the church in due course.

    +Idris did comment to me a while ago that a church like St Mary’s might have something helpful to offer in video form which might be valuable if there is a time when a lot of people cannot make it to church.

  5. Please note that although the noble metal of the chalice will protect against many bacterial transmissable diseases, it has not been shown to be effective against viruses. Equally, an ethanol concentration of 60% is needed for most effective antiviral activity to take place, so look for a high concentration in hand gels.

    It is also important to be aware that overuse of alcohol gels can actually lead to a higher viral load due to broken skin which has dried out. There is no real substitiute for soap and hot water in most cases!

    • Thanks woolleyhedge – I gave clear advice to the servers this morning that over-reliance on the gel is no substitute for soap and water. Our gel is appropriately strong enough.

      The debate about what the gel should be dispensed from is currently raging.

      One suggestion is a suitable gilt or silver container bearing the image of Blessed St Luke the Physician. A countersuggestion is that the gel should be decanted into a Blessed Virgin Mary Holy Plastic Water Bottle and the usual blue crown replaced with the plunging dispenser mechanism.

  6. Well there are environmental concerns to consider as well. How does one recycle a Blessed Virgin Mary Holy Plastic Water Bottle?

  7. Elizabeth says

    I think, given that she is our Patron, that the BVM would be most appropriate, provided that the dispensing bit doesn’t end up squishing her head.

  8. You could try a bronze snake a la Moses….

  9. Oh, I hadn’t thought of a bronze snake, erp. Very good.

    Now, where have I put that Hayes and Finch Bronze Snake catalogue suppliment…

  10. Well


    looked nice but expensive and not exactly practical (not exactly bronze either).

    A snake (rod of Asclepius) can also be a symbol of medicine though that might be getting too pagan.

    In any case hope none of you catch a bad case of flu.

  11. I seem to remember back in the days of the Aberdeen Typhoid thing that there was a possible alternative usage featuring silver straws? Do Hayes & Finch supply these? And the tiny brushes needed to cleanse such equipment? and the tiny steriliser, plumbed directly to bedrock, required to cleanse brushes?
    No modern sacristy is complete without such.

  12. David |Dah • veed| says

    Silver straws! Um, Father, may I trouble you for a little sip of your McJesus? Billions served.

  13. I was in a church on Sunday where an alternative to alcohol gel was used — a bowl of cold water and a bar of soap that was kept on the credence table throughout the service and shared by all. I suspect this is one circumstance in which the gel is considerably more hygienic!

  14. Yesterday I found myself at another St Mary’s Cathedral, not 50 miles from Great Western Road, to celebrate the Feast of St Silas. The Sacrament was offered in one kind only, to a congregation of 17 plus a choir of 45. A notice at the West door, and an announcement from the High Altar informed us that this was policy.
    We were also informed that the choir would receive first, or else “things will go on for ever”
    Heaven forbid, that St Silas might be celebrated in anything approaching 45 minutes, lest one’s gin might grow warm.

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